“Trunk Call”

By Clive Alcock

Helen Gibbon is doing a sterling job as the club magazine’s new editor, but does depend on other people, club members, actually writing a few articles for it from time to time. So she asked me:

What shall I write about?” I said. “Don’t know… “ She replied “up to you. What events you’ve done this year, maybe, but don’t worry…You don’t have to mention the tree!

Well, we’ve done quite a lot, tree or no tree. Wife and I on the SMC Summer Treasure Hunt, for instance. Starting out on a fine evening from under the ancient oak and beeches of Rickerby Park, Carlisle, in a Lancia Fulvia owned for nigh-on 20 years. Once our 2nd family car, baby seats in the back, the Fulvia might be a familiar mount but navigating by committee never our forte. So we didn’t do very well at all and, whizzing round, the clues got harder to find: “You’re barking up the wrong tree…” I’m sure she said once, but at least we found the bar OK, out in the wilds of Smithfield.

The Fulvia characterful transport too for a run across the A66 to Scotch Corner and then Croft for their ‘Nostalgia Weekend’ which, like the proverbial curate’s egg, was “Good in Parts”. Very few Italian cars off-track, but at least an excellent collection of red, racing Alfas (105 Giulia Bertone coupes, mostly) belting round on-track, plus several aircraft. And no trees whatsoever.

What else this year? Well, our local ‘Pirelli Rally’ always great – except that confusing new stuff about ‘modules’ a bit off-putting – much as I want to support its hard-working organisers. A separate start-ceremony out on the racecourse for that catch-all class/module my over-rollcaged (therefore ‘non-historic’) 1980 Sunbeam belongs-in, felt like leaving for Kielder by the back-door. So to speak. And a brand-new event to consider, nearer to the woods. The ‘DMACK Carlisle Stages’ run by those capable people from De Lacy Motor Club, who were willing to treat our 1600 pushrod Sunbeam as ‘Nearly-Historic’ – like it surely is! Let us ‘at’ the Escorts; that Lancia Stratos……

How we ended up on 22nd June as second car through on the road; with SMC’s Richard Hortin in the left-hand seat. Fresh from his recent unfortunate ‘roll’ in a Peugeot on the Jim Clark; but both of us looking to revel in Forestry Commission tracks not yet cut-up by others’ horsepower. A Finn and former British Champion ten minutes behind; and a two-litre, blue Volvo ‘thing’ right on our tail.

Clive Alcock & Richard Hortin

Not always an advantage, you know, being first car on the road. Can be very slippy….” warned Barry Lindsay.  At least it wasn’t hot, and rain kept down the expected dust on a six-stage event.

Car ran well; Richard’s timing and note-calling likewise efficient; our service crew at Rally HQ near Longtown (including Dave B, an old friend from my rallying days in Yorkshire, many years ago) with little to do save get under, check a few bolts. Replace that rear offside slow-puncture which caused some lurid tail-waving in front of the photographers on stage 3. Yet more returning to Service on public roads, and us just thinking that’s what ‘knobblies’ do on wet tarmac…..

Before the tree…

Though overall the Sunbeam behaves impeccably all day, puncture or no puncture; always coming back from the brink. Obedient to the wheel, until later that afternoon and very near the end of stage 5 (Newcastleton), down by the river at at Kershopefoot. Where she broke away on a straight we’d already done once, but this time never came back.  “This is going to hurt…” my only thought.

We could analyse this uncharacteristic event till the loggers come home. Consider the nature of what Helen’s photos remind us were wet and greasy roads; effects of wear on rally tyres’ grip; but que sera, sera. How one crest was followed by a dip containing a deep pothole; and how that pothole then unsettled the car for another immediate crest over which it slightly shimmied; then snapped 90-degrees smartly left into an adjacent line of trees. The damage was done.

Good news is: Richard and I could raise the ‘OK’ board – despite a little whiplash for him (his helmet came off) – once we’d opened the doors and stepped-out. While an over-roll caged shell stayed straight where an ‘historic-spec’ cage wouldn’t have, so happily it’s repairable. Now that the panels are successfully gathered-in (a story in itself) it’ll be going into the shop and we’ll be out again; but thanks to everyone helping. To Richard for successfully navigating five-sixths of the way towards a class award. Especially to Barry, for rescuing a cross-eyed Sunbeam from wrong-side the Border stream with his winch-equipped trailer; and Dave for helping me unload it at home. The resulting broken wrist he attended A&E with turning out to be ‘only’ a sprain; so a lucky day out for all concerned, but not for that tree…..

Eight years since I last went off, did that sort of damage. “And where was that?” asks your diligent editor. “Kershopefoot: R.A.C. 2005 in a SAAB – over the side of a bridge….” my reply. Uncanny, or what?  Maybe tarmac events at Croft a safer option; Scotland for the brave!

(Images © H. R. Gibbon / Spadeadam Motor Club 2013)